So much then for what I have referred to in my most recent posting; i.e. as a ‘potted history’ of relaxation training: progressive or otherwise. Of course – and since my writings published here are based upon my own somewhat tailored approach to clinical practice – there are bound to be omissions under this over-all heading, i.e. Routes…to Relaxation and Healing”, such as to other highly credible and increasingly well-research methods of relaxation and of enhanced conscious awareness. Examples of this would be Yoga, Transcendental Meditation (TM) and – to a somewhat lesser extent – Reflexology, Shiatsu and Hydrotherapy. Such omissions should not however be perceived as the expression of some form of value judgement on my part. Rather is it the case that having no ‘hands on’ experience on which to draw, I defer to those who have. (There is certainly no shortage of literature on today’s bookstalls describing a variety of methods for which claims are made). On the other hand, those inherent (although in many instances, implicit) ‘ingredients’ of almost all relaxational and meditative methods and strategies, both ancient and modern, i.e. of autogenic training, visualisation, meditation and hypnosis/self-suggestion, do require some attention here. Consequently, these will be briefly described in the following paragraphs.
Autogenic training (AT) in fact developed directly from the therapeutic practice of hypnosis, about which I will write more extensively in future blogs. It amounts to combinations of self-suggestion, employed in an attempt to control conscious awareness. (Should you find this last sentence somewhat ‘heavy going’, may I, in this instance, suggest that you ‘run with it’ and just read on? The picture will, I am confident, clear as you work through the next two blogs.) The aim in AT is to develop the capacity to program oneself to relax at will, by “switching off” the body’s on-board and so-called “fight or flight”· mechanism. Where initial training is being given by a skilled and experienced clinician/therapist (always to be highly recommended irrespective), the taking of a brief medical and mental history is a highly desirable if not essential prerequisite. Some people (for example patients with a heart condition or who are diabetic; or those in other than the early stages of pregnancy) might well be advised to employ a modified training programme, at the same time remaining under medical supervision throughout the course of training.
Carruthers· describes AT as consisting of basic exercises, which when mastered, can induce profound relaxation. Each exercise focuses on bodily sensations. These he describes as heaviness and warmth in the limbs and abdomen. Control over the breathing response, together with concentration on heartbeat and “coolness in the forehead”, is used to increase a sense of profound “calming”. Although – and as already stated – best results are likely to ensue from regular access to and input from a qualified and experienced instructor, there is ample scope for home practice on a regular basis. For this reason one might well be given (or make up) a diary card to complete, in order to chart progress.
Many who have been trained or who have trained themselves in the successful application of AT (including a variety of people and professions, such as law enforcement officers, airline pilots, businessmen and women etc.) will tell you that there are always further frontiers to advance and progress toward. It is for example, possible to attain to greatly increased levels of concentration, heightened performance and even what sometimes is referred to as “autogenic meditation”, i.e. an acquired ability to control higher consciousness. Indeed – and accordingly – Carruthers’ original training programme was divided into three categories of exercises; i. auto-suggestion in order to induce a relaxed mind/body state; ii. mental concentration having a single focus, such as a mantra (or whatever) and iii. meditation on abstract qualities of what one might refer to as a higher and universal consciousness. However – and overwhelmingly so where employed in medical and psychological therapy – it is only the first of these three exercises, with occasional reference to and connotations of the second that are likely to be deployed.
Visualization is of course an inherent element in the above process. For example·, imagine a familiar beach scene, perhaps from a recent holiday taken at a favourite resort. Now begin to narrow and sharpen the focus on to soft nimbus-type clouds, floating gently and easily across an otherwise clear blue sky. Alternatively, you might imagine the repetitive movement and pattern of expiring waves, softly rippling across the sand. It is easy in the above to perceive how the art of relaxing/pleasant and comfortable visualization skills not infrequently proceed hand in hand. First, auto-suggestion, i.e. “I am lying on a sunlit beach…” etc. Then, as – with eyes closed – we mentally and emotionally allow such self-delivered commands to take ‘centre stage’, we imagine – or “visualize” – the setting within which they and we are becoming ever more comfortably and firmly placed…and so we relax. Or – as in the following – we might change the order somewhat, for no other reason perhaps than that we find it more appealing and successful in the delivery of end results. For instance, we quite simply begin by quite consciously and deliberately breathing more deeply and slowly.
Should you attempt this yourself, also take a moment to develop a slight and pleasant tendency to pause… just fractionally… after each inhalation…and before, just as slowly and comfortably…exhaling. Each time you breathe in… and out again…begin to pick up and relate to the overall pattern of breathing: this ebb and flow…or there again you might perceive it as a rise and fall. Just enjoy the comfortable monotony of it all… and what it is achieving…Increasingly now you will become aware of, at first subtle but nevertheless real change taking place as progressively you relax. Perhaps you are being drawn in these moments to focus on the manner in which your limbs are becoming pleasantly immobile and… comfortably heavier. Allow your concentration to be easily drawn to your left leg…first your toes then your foot… now the lower leg…upper leg etc. (Repeat this same approach for your other leg, arms, head and neck). At this point you might think of taking yourself to a relaxing place, a beach perhaps… Do you see what I mean about the changed order in which visualization plays an important role? (C) SB.
- See recent blog postscript in which it is noted that our “defence response system” evolved as protection against difficult and dangerous situation..
- Dr Malcolm Carruthers was credited with the introduction of Autogenic training as a formal discipline to the UK in the 1970s, although it was in fact the German, Johannes Schulz and his colleagues who popularized it between the wars and following the Second World War. However – and in essence, autogenic training goes much further back than that.
- It is suggested that you read italicized words on this and the next page only, somewhat more slowly and thoughtfully. Also you might experiment with the deliberate repetition of each suggestion.